Ballot Initiative of the Day: California’s Death-Penalty Ban

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Election Day 2012 will decide more than the next President and control of Congress. State ballot measures across the country will ask voters to weigh in on scores of controversial issues, from Dream Act measures in Maryland to abortion restrictions in Florida. From now until Nov. 6, TIME will spotlight a different ballot issue every day. First up, California’s Proposition 34.

Prop 34 would do three things: replace the death penalty in California with life in prison without parole, create a $100 million fund to investigate rape and murder cases, and require inmates to work and pay restitution to victims or their families.

(PhotosPolitical Photos of the Week, Oct. 12-18)

Supporters of Prop 34 have focused on the financial implications, not the moral ones, of executing prisoners. A Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review study estimates that the death penalty has cost taxpayers $4 billion since 1978, the year California reinstated capital punishment. The state has carried out only 13 executions during that period, and the study estimates that getting rid of the death penalty would save the state $130 million every year. “California is broke, and our death-penalty system is broken beyond repair,” says Jeanne Woodford, a proponent of Prop 34 and former warden of San Quentin State Prison, where she oversaw four executions. “Proposition 34 is justice that works for everyone.”

Opponents argue that the measure would abandon justice for the victims and that death-penalty costs are overestimated. “Prop 34 isn’t about saving money in California or about eliminating judicial mistakes. It’s a political agenda driven by the American Civil Liberties Union to abolish capital punishment based on their views of morality,” argues McGregor Scott, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California and a co-chair of the No on 34 campaign. “State taxpayers would be on the hook for millions of dollars in extra expenses if Prop 34 were to pass, since death-row inmates would be entitled to housing, food and medical expenses for the rest of their lives.”

Polling indicates that more Californians oppose the measure that support it, but the margin is narrowing. A Sept. 30 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found voters against Prop 34 51% to 38%, while an Oct. 11 California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University poll showed them against it 48.1% to 42.9%. As of Oct. 7, supporters had raised $4.6 million, nearly 20 times the amount raised by their opponents.


I used to be a death penalty supporter but in time my mind has changed completely. It doesn't deter people from killing anyone, becauseat the time of the murders; the killers aren't thinking about capital punishment,  they are to busy killing to be occupied with thepunishment of their crimes. The money all goes to the lawyers and they get rich trying to keep some thug from getting the needle. Now if the appeals would be shorten by say20 or 30 years, and all the evidence was rock solid, leaving no doubt of ones guilt and it met the guidelines of a capital murder case, then sure take them out back, and drop them right there. I'm all for that. It's the families that have to wait, and see their family members who were murdered marginalized and pushed  aside by the lawyers and judges all in the thought of preserving the life of the killer. Some people call it revenge, I call it justice.So, unless the appeals process isn't ever going to be shorten, and the punishment isn't going to be handed down in under 3-5 years, then I say,do away with the death sentence, and insitutue life in prison with no parole, and 24 hour solitary confinement, Pelican Bay style, until they die. No appeals, nothing more from those criminals, other than they do their time in complete isolation. That would get people thinking. No television, no sunlight, no exercise,  no interaction with other prisoners, just four walls, and bars for the rest of their life. No book deals, no celebrity family visitations, no ice cream on Sundays, nothing but hard time. Also, imagine if all the child molesters got the same sentence, how many kids would be alive and not scarred by those monsters.


Countries without death penalty have fewer murders.

States in this country without death penalties have fewer murders.

It's basically a tool for revenge. A very expensive tool at that.


My feeling is why waste time, money and resources on killing people?  We can make the penal system work.  Make them pay their way or suffer the consequences of not working.  If they don't work, they don't eat, they don't get electricity or water.  We do that to people who HAVEN'T committed any crimes, after all.  Why not to all prisoners?  There's a lot of wasted hours in there.  Put them to work.

As for death penalty, keep them at work for life.  No retirement.  No vacations.  No choices.  Is it cruel and unusual?  I should hope not.  People who haven't committed any crimes do that all the time just to get by.  It may even teach those who will get out a lesson or two about the benefits of STAYING OUT.  It won't deter people from murdering others, but it won't cost the state billions over the long-term.  It may actually save the state billions in the long-term.

The death penalty was never about "justice".  It's about retribution, pure and simple.  But if the penal system is to do anything FOR society other than being a state-sponsored place to store socially undesirable individuals, we need to put "punishment" back into penal in a way that will both punish and illustrate the error if their ways. Make them work.  No money for themselves.  Only work chits that "buys" their privileges - like an indoor cell, power, water, soap, food, education...  You know, like what the rest of us need to do to get by.  No extra rewards beyond the basics unless one goes above and beyond - and stays there.  And the products of their labors can go toward paying for their upkeep and repayment of their crimes.

Make punishment part of the penal system again.  It will make lifer's lives a living hell (which in part satisfies social desire for retribution), and extract from them restitution for their acts.  Because in the end, which is more viscerally satisfying: Seeing someone suffer or looking at an unmarked grave and only HOPING they're suffering?  After all, it's not like they'll be forever in prison.  They'll die there one way or another.  Why not twist the knife a bit before they go?


Why does California even bother with a legislature when they ballot measure everything?